Abu Dhabi has heeded ICCA’s advice and established a bold future vision
When Abu Dhabi broke into ICCA’s top 100 busiest meeting destinations in 2012, CEO Martin Sirk advised the destination not to worry about specific rankings, but instead aim for business that suits its long-term economic vision. The emirate’s MICE market has lived up to these wise words, focusing on forward thinking venues and strategic market progression.
Abu Dhabi has witnessed a sizeable growth in business events over the last decade. Recent statistics from ICCA show that the number of events taking place in the destination has grown from four in 2005 to 24 in 2013, dropping marginally to 22 in 2014. Guest arrivals into Abu Dhabi, meanwhile, show a 21% year-on-year increase, and hotel occupancy is currently at 74%.
Nabeel Al Zarouni, the UK Country Manager for the Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority says the UK remains the leading European market with arrivals jumping 16% year-on-year to 159,248, delivering 657,848 guest nights, a 10% increase year-on-year. UK guests are also among those that stay the longest, averaging 4.13 nights.
“China has been the best performing market in terms of growth, recording a 69% increase in visitor numbers year-on-year,” he adds. “South Africa has been another top performer this year (2015), with visitor numbers increasing 41% year-on-year since the opening of a TCA Abu Dhabi office in Johannesburg in February. Ireland has also had a great year, seeing arrivals increase 39% year-on-year, from 12,115 to 16,792 – a result that sees Ireland break into the top 25 national performers.”
Meanwhile, the top 10 inbound markets between January and September are: UAE, India, UK, China, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Philippines, USA, Germany, Egypt and Jordan.
Geographically, Abu Dhabi is well placed for association meetings and global access, sitting on a crossroads between Europe, Asia, Africa and India. The destination accounts for about two-thirds of the roughly US$400bn United Arab Emirates economy. Its event scene is diverse, with intimate events for between 50 and 150 people to gatherings of upwards of 3,000 delegates.
Abu Dhabi’s competitiveness is also strong. It recently fought off competitive bids from both Rio de Janeiro and St Petersburg to host the 2019 World Energy Congress (WEC). Investment will continue to the MICE industries as part of the government’s drive to create a diversified, sustainable economy by 2030 (The Abu Dhabi 2030 Economic Vision).
Abu Dhabi has also held a number of events for more than 3,000 delegates, including the World Conference on Tobacco or Health (WCTOH), held at ADNEC from the 17 to 21 March. Future events like the aforementioned World Energy Congress are expected to draw upwards of 5,000 delegates.
The destination’s event scene can’t be discussed without reference to The Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Centre, which offers 73,000sqm of event space and is the largest in the Middle East. Additionally, there is the Abu Dhabi International Exhibition Centre which offers 55,000sqm of event space, spread across 11 halls. For those seeking more unique event spaces, venues in the area include Yas Marina and Yacht Club, Zayed Sports City Stadium and Abu Dhabi Country Club.
ICCA’s Sirk notes that UAE was perceived as a luxury destination, a label that can be both a selling point and a deterrent for budget-conscious organisations, or sectors that would rather avoid the bad PR associated with such surroundings. “Telling the full story of the range of options, including non-luxury hotel products, is very important,” he added. New openings (outlined in the boxout), cover a wider span of budgets, which will help this cause.
Grabbing headlines recently has been the upturn in investment in the Saadiyat Cultural District. Dubbed as the most ambitious cultural project ever conceived, the district will see three leading cultural institutions open in the near future, starting with the Louvre Abu Dhabi. This will be followed by the Zayed National Museum, while completing the trio will be the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, which when it opens will be the largest Guggenheim in the world – about 12 times larger than Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim in New York.